Advice to Museveni’s palace: beware of the danger of obsession in state relations

For the last several years Rwanda and President Paul Kagame have been on the lips of most Ugandans, from the greatest to the lowest.

They are in every media outlet, from obscure websites, many of them sponsored by various government and security agencies, to mainstream newspapers, radio and television.

In one sense, it is a compulsive preoccupation that is difficult to understand. But in another, it fits the character of a certain old man in this region very well and the behaviour of those around him that it is perfectly comprehensible.

In trying to understand this phenomenon, I came upon three words that offer a very good explanation.

The first is obsession. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and his court, his security agencies, and now increasingly the media are obsessed with Rwanda, President Kagame and everything Rwandan.

Whatever happens here, however minor, is picked up and often twisted to fit into the obsessive mould. If nothing happens, it will be invented and treated in a similar way.

It has become evident in recent times that this sort of obsession is extremely dangerous and could even lead to war.

So, what has led to it? It may be worthwhile to first explore the meaning of the word as given by different dictionaries.

Obsession is an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind. There is nothing wrong with that, you might say. It happens to us all the time.

Yes, but then it begins to get really serious. It is someone or something that you think about all the time.

And even stronger: it is the control of one’s thoughts by a continuous, powerful idea or feeling.

Then it is really all-consuming as a persistent, disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling in a way that is not normal.

A synonym for obsession is fixation. You may have noticed that these definitions and the growing intensity of obsession, describe the trend in the behaviour of the old man of our region and that of his palace.

No one would be bothered if the obsession was shown by an ordinary person in his twilight years, something that had come about with age. That would be understandable.

But the old man is not an ordinary man. He is a head of state with a lot of power and great ambition. Nor is he surrounded by simple folks. His court is made up of people who wield immense influence and are not shy to flaunt it.

It would also be fine if all this stayed within the palace, but it does not. His court has a knack, nay obsession, for forcing their will on others, and in the current tense relations between Rwanda and Uganda are the ones beating the drums of war the loudest.

By his own admission, President Museveni has been obsessed with power since his youth (Sowing the Mustard Seed), initially as a means of fighting injustice and bad leadership, and advancing good governance and development.

However, over time it has increasingly become an end in itself. And those around him, having tasted power and liking it, have begun to exercise it in the crudest fashion and woe to anyone who stands in their way. Power has become a fixation.

An anecdote has been told of Mwalimu Nyerere warning his friend Milton Obote about the young Museveni when he joined the Ugandan public service after completing his studies at the University of Dar es Salaam.

Nyerere is reported to have said: watch him; he can be useful, but he is very ambitious and dangerous.

Again that would be fine if the ambition for power was limited to Uganda alone. But it is not. He wants to project it beyond Uganda’s borders. Mathew Ndirima, writing in The New Times of May 31, 2019 chronicled this very well.

He wrote that for the past quarter century, Museveni has been trying to subjugate Rwanda and ran it as a vassal state. So far his efforts have come to nought. But he has not given up. He is now even prepared to work with genocidaires and terrorists to achieve his goal.

There is an obsession in the Ugandan military with superiority over Rwanda. According to a Ugandan journalist, Andrew Mwenda (The Independent June 3, 2019) the bad blood between the two countries is partly the result of unresolved military supremacy dating back to the Kisangani battles.

In this sense relations are like a sibling rivalry for dominance. The older sibling cannot stand the younger one doing better, or enjoying the limelight that the other has always had all to himself. He wants to remain the stronger and dominant sibling and will often enforce this desire by force. It is, of course, the way of bullies.

In these circumstances, an emerging and assertive Rwanda, increasingly playing an important role in regional and world affairs, and a President Kagame who will not compromise on the sovereignty of his country, are obstacles to the realisation of the grand ambition.

There is one problem, however. Obsession is irrational and a dangerous condition, and does not guarantee the desired results. Often, it prevents one from seeing possible alternatives, or having a healthy scepticism, and so leads to impaired judgement.

We read daily of reports Museveni gets from his intelligence services and urgings from his court to make dangerous and adventurous decisions. We hear of the many made up stories he is fed by Rwandan fugitives from justice. All of which feed into the existing obsession.

The second word is paranoia, which is obsession carried a degree higher. In this state, one begins to see enemies everywhere. They believe conspiracy stories without testing their veracity.

In this connection, we hear of Museveni’s anger at the alleged infiltration of Uganda’s security services by Rwandans. We hear tales of espionage but never see anyone charged with the offence.

The third, I will not say for now. All I can say is that it is another degree higher and the impairment it causes to judgement that much worse.

In all this it is clear that it is not prudent to conduct affairs of state on the strength of an obsession.

The views expressed in this article are of the authors.

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